Standard plastic enclosures are now so feature-rich—so application-ready—that specifying ‘off the shelf’ is an absolute no-brainer.
Is this a golden age for electronic enclosures? Increasingly it feels that way, and with good reason. Significant advances in development have made it easier to specify standard/customized enclosures that are either highly specialized, incredibly versatile, or even both simultaneously.
What was once the bane of an electronics designer’s life—the challenge of specifying elegant enclosures within tight budgets and tighter timescales—is now a breeze. The once-tortuous journey from design concept to finished enclosure has never been shorter. And it all feels very refreshing.
Long gone are the days of designers being forced to choose between anonymous but ‘available now’ standard boxes and expensive bespoke housings that would take months to create.
Standard plastic enclosures are now so feature-rich—so application-ready—that specifying ‘off the shelf’ is an absolute no-brainer. Add a few customization tweaks, and a discreet standard housing suddenly becomes uniquely yours: machined, custom branded, and fully finished. It can go straight from your goods-in to your production line, ready for the installation of electronics. Smart, simple, efficient, and effective.
But the huge choice of these application-ready enclosures can sometimes feel overwhelming. No longer is the market trisected into a basic trinity of desktop, wall-mount, and handheld enclosures (with/without battery compartment). Now there are wearables, portables, flush-mounts, IoT/IIoT enclosures, wired housings, modular case systems, and enclosures for mounting on suspension arms.
Standard cases are now more purpose-specific than ever, and yet are still capable of fitting other roles. For example, OKW’s SMART-PANEL touchscreen enclosures were created to flush-mount into standard cavity wall boxes, but they can double up as small tabletop housings if required. Similarly, CARRYTEC is an attaché case style electronic instrumentation enclosure, but its integrated handle makes an ideal grab point when the housing is inverse-mounted on a suspension arm.
There have been significant advances in materials too. Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) used to be the go-to choice for plastic enclosures. However, this time-honored terpolymer (a polymer synthesized from three different monomers) is increasingly being benched in favor of acrylonitrile styrene acrylate (ASA), or an ASA-polycarbonate blend (ASA+PC-FR), both of which offer greater UV stability.
Previously, enclosures were either plastic or metal (either fabricated or diecast). One or the other. Seldom were these materials used together. But iF award-winning SYNERGY enclosures combine extruded aluminum bodies with ASA+PC-FR tops and bases, all held firmly in place by an innovative pillar-based construction system that conceals the fixing screws.
SMART-TERMINAL control enclosures shake up the cocktail of materials still further by combining aluminum with not one but two plastics. Nestled in the aluminum case body this time are two designer seals molded from soft-touch TPV, and inside those are the ASA+PC-FR end caps. This endcap/seal configuration adds IP 54 ingress protection coupled with a dash of branding panache.
And there’s more still to ASA. When specified with a high-gloss finish, it becomes ideal for medical electronics because it’s so easy to wipe clean. This is why glossy ASA is standard for STYLE-CASE handheld controller enclosures and wearable BODY-CASE housings for bio-feedback, geolocation, and emergency call applications.
The healthcare sector has always been a demanding environment for enclosures. Hospitals may not be as tough as factories, but they can still be a punishing place for delicate electronics. Intensive 24/7 use by multiple clinicians can take its toll. And, all the while, the enclosures must continue to look good because no patient wants to be treated with tired-looking kit.
Enclosures destined for healthcare and wellness applications must be robust and cytotoxically safe, with ergonomic curves and tamperproof Torx assembly screws.
But it is the IoT/IIoT that has seen the biggest increase in enclosure development in recent years, not least because data-intensive Industry 4.0 applications require different sets of enclosures for their various sensors and associated devices.
The burgeoning enclosure market ranges from small ‘clip-to-product’ cases such as MINITEC or BODY-CASE (both wearables) to larger wall-mount housings such as square PROTEC, wedge-shaped SMART-CONTROL (for corners), and sleek NET-BOX (for data networks).
There is an argument for design simplicity, given the sheer size of IIoT networks and how many enclosures need to be installed across the average smart factory. Clever design touches make all the difference: OKW’s EASYTEC can be fitted to poles, rods, and bars easily and quickly thanks to a curved recess in its base section and installation lugs that accommodate both cable ties and screws.
Whichever standard enclosure you specify, it will need customization: machining of apertures, custom colors, printing of legends and logos… the list goes on. Thus, it makes sense to partner with a specialist enclosures manufacturer that offers a complete range of customization services.
For example, advanced lacquering offers a huge array of finishes, including matt, satin, glossy, metallic, soft-touch faux leather, antibacterial paint, and ESD conductive to mitigate electrostatic discharges. In addition to enabling the printing of photo-quality graphics, digital technology is much easier to set up than traditional screen-printing methods.
As OKW Enclosures, Inc. Vice-President of Marketing Robert Cox says: “Customization technology has taken huge leaps forward in recent years, making fully-finished enclosures available in much lower volumes.”
“It’s now very easy to specify customized enclosures for extremely niche products. Decor foils for lettering and color design now start in batches of just one unit. Customization doesn’t get much more available than that!” he adds.